Dark Knight Strikes Again: Politics as Usual

August 26th, 2013 Posted by david brothers


I always liked this page from Frank Miller & Lynn Varley’s Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the book, alongside all of the stuff with Supergirl. I like it more for the dialogue than anything else, though Miller’s formless, chunky Batman is an obviously great take on the character’s design. But this bit is killer, from Hawkboy’s mouth to Batman’s heart: “Thanagarians do not believe in fate. We do not believe that anything is beyond the power of mind and bone and muscle and will. I do not accept these deaths. I do not accept this crime.”

I really dig that bit, despite the Ayn Randiness of it. I like how it perfectly sketches that character out, giving him a moral immovability that’s also present in characters like Rorshach. There is Justice and there is Crime, and one must be eliminated at all costs.

Hawkboy discusses his life as if it were a conflict, a constant series of battles between Us and Them, the Just and the Fallen. There is always something To Be Triumphed Over, which ain’t necessarily the best way to look at the world. The directness of the statement appeals to me a great deal. It posits a world where change is not only possible, but possible due to the direct intervention of human hands. If something’s gone wrong, you reach out a hand, you take hold, and you fix it, and that thing has no choice but to bow to your will.

“I do not accept these deaths. I do not accept this crime.” That mentality sits at the root of a lot, if not most, superheroes. With precious few exceptions, your average superhero is doing something that is wildly illegal, but they’re doing it for “good reasons.” When people talk about how cape comics have fascist or authoritarian elements, they’re talking about Superman bending a dictator to his will, Batman creating a surveillance state for the protection of the people inside it, the Punisher playing at executioner. They are the Good Guys, so what they do is by definition Right and Just, even when it is illegal and horrible, because we know their hearts are in the right place.

This sort of doctrine really only works in comics, where you can “avenge” someone’s death and have that be an actual ending or provide closure. Real life doesn’t work like that. There are a lot of things that will bow to the power of mind and bone and muscle and will, but then there are greater things that will never bow. You will have to accept death. You will have to accept crime. You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you’re too poor to afford boots, right? But it’s nice to think about a world where we have total control, instead of none.

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maybe i’m just like my mother?

May 1st, 2013 Posted by david brothers

There’s this story I’ve been telling for years about how Frank Miller, specifically his comic Sin City: The Big Fat Kill #5, was the bullet that got me into crime fiction in a big way. It’s a tipping point for me, and I feel like there’s a definite shift in my tastes from pre-BFK to post-BFK. I’ve said it here on 4l!, I’m pretty sure I said it on ComicsAlliance, and I’ve definitely poorly told the story in person to a bunch of people about how that comic blew my mind in the way that you do when you like something too much and can’t decide what to say. It’s a big comic for me, maybe The Comic, in a way that most comics are not. I can trace a lot of the grimy crime stuff I like to things from that book easy as pie.

I was talking with friends about novels a little bit ago — forty-five minutes ago, if we’re being perfectly honest with each other. (We are — I am.) We talked about what our parents read when we were kids, what we read ourselves, the stuff of theirs that we read… just sort of a nice conversation. “Here’s some stuff. Let’s react to each other and see where this goes.” John Sanford, James Patterson, Anne Rice. I didn’t get to mention Eric van Lustbader and Tom Clancy, but I sure was thinking it. A name pops into my head: Kay Scarpetta.

Was she a writer? A character? Probably a character. I haven’t read any of these books since the ’90s, so it’s no wonder they’re a little fuzzy.

I googled her. Created by Patricia Cornwell in 1990, Kay Scarpetta was a Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond, VA for a while, and I believe that’s where I found her. Around ’94, I was living in the Hampton Roads area and ten-going-on-eleven, so reading about places that were nearby — nobody ever wrote about Small Towne, GA, where home still is — was cool. Very cool. I ate those books up, alongside the Pattersons and Sanfords and such.

Wait, I read those Scarpetta books around ’94? Maybe ’95 at the outside? I couldn’t have gotten Big Fat Kill from my uncle until 1996, 1997, when I was just barely a teenager. That doesn’t make any sense. But I definitely read those novels first and Big Fat Kill later…

As it turns out, I got my interest in crime from my mother. Frank Miller was where it crystalized, I guess, but mom came first. My life? A lie.

Here’s a brief list of other things my mother gave me:
-The Roots
-Erykah Badu
-Meshell Ndegeocello
-No Doubt
-Probably Fight Club
-Definitely The Jackson 5 (we used to sing “ABC”)
-my temper.

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Crossover Celebration Part 7: Robocop and Terminator Duke it Out Over the Decades

March 7th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

I can’t think of a more fitting mixing of properties than Robocop and Terminator. Both 80’s movies are perfect opposing sides to the same coin. Robocop is a robot on the outside with a human on the inside. Terminator is a human on the outside with a robot on the inside. Robocop is about the extreme dangers of mankind. Terminator is about the extreme dangers of technology. Robocop is a machine bent on protecting humans. Terminators are machines bent on destroying humans. Robocop’s theme rings of optimistic victory. Terminator’s theme rings of impending doom. Robocop saved Sting from the clutches of the Four Horsemen. The Terminator failed to save us from Axl Rose. You get the idea.

There have been two comics about the two sides clashing via two different companies with two decades in-between. One of them is exceptionally good. The other one is not. The first one is by pre-insanity Frank Miller with Walt Simonson on art. That should spell it out pretty easily, I’d say.

The four-part series Robocop vs. the Terminator was released in late 1992 by Dark Horse. It’s released a year after Terminator 2 and just months before Robocop 3, which also has Miller’s name on it… whether he wants it to or not. Interestingly enough, Robocop vs. the Terminator has virtually nothing to do with Terminator 2 despite the movie’s immense popularity. Going further, this isn’t even a traditional crossover in the sense that none of the Terminator cast appear at all. The most we get is references to the adult John Connor. There’s no sign of him, his mother, his father or even the T-1000. The most we get is a T-800 that may or may not have the same appearance as the one from the movies. Though he does steal a blind man’s shades, so I guess it’s supposed to be an Arnold-bot.

It’s a unique mixing of properties where it’s simply Robocop and his world interacting with the world of the Terminator. Not the characters, but the concepts.

Several decades into the future, the war with Skynet is all but finished. The last remaining humans are overwhelmed by the machines and the last survivor is a tough-as-nails female soldier with a bowl-cut named Flo. She uses the diversion of her comrades’ deaths to find out for sure what caused Judgment Day to happen.

Uh oh.

With more robots on their way to get her, Flo drops trou and runs into a time machine. She goes back in time to not-so-distant-future Detroit, where she’s almost run over by a cab driver. Strangely, nobody bats an eye to the fact that she’s nude and instead her inability to look where she’s going (by teleporting in front of a moving car) causes the driver to pull out his gun. Many onlookers get ready for the showdown by taking out their own pieces, but Flo disarms the cabbie and steals his gun. Everyone backs off and goes on with the rest of their day. The thing that really gets Flo about all of this is the very sacrilegious idea that man would threaten man with violence. Then again, Skynet hasn’t happened yet.

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Before Watchmen: “there’s a war going on outside no man is safe from”

April 25th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

This was going to be a simple round-up of a few recent posts on DC’s Before Watchmen, but ha ha, I realized I still have stuff to say. Sorry.

The other day, out in the hardest part of the tweets on the wrong side of the twacks, a comics pro tweeted that the conventional wisdom that sequels or prequels don’t affect the source material isn’t true, because now that he was aware of Before Watchmen, it was impossible to read Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen without that kicking around in the back of your head.

He’s right. Before Watchmen colors what came before it. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Mel Gibson outed himself as being cartoonishly racist and bigoted (and somehow so ultra-Catholic that he thinks the Pope isn’t Catholic enough, or something, which is definitely some supervillain-type thinking) has definitely changed Lethal Weapon, hasn’t it? If I buy that new box set, I’m putting money in the pocket of somebody who told his old lady that he hopes she gets raped by a pack of niggers. WHOA! Am I down with that?

And so it goes with Before Watchmen. A connection has been made, and even if you consciously put it out of your head, the fact that Before Watchmen exists is still there. The creators’ rights skullduggery, Moore & Gibbons being cheated out of profits, the creators involved who’ve been throwing ill-advised bombs… it absolutely affects the work. More than that, it affects other work. I was digging Spaceman by Azzarello and Risso. I like Amanda Conner’s work. Darwyn Cooke’s adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker novels are more or less my favorite comics each year. I got that Martini Edition — have you seen that thing? It’s wonderful, easily the best packaged comic I’ve bought in ages. The next book, Parker: The Score, is probably one of my top 5 Parker novels. I’d like to read it.

But Before Watchmen makes me stop and start thinking about ideologies and differences of opinion, instead of the work. It doesn’t make me think that their work sucks. That’s stupid. They’re as talented as ever. But, like my newly complicated relationship with Frank Miller’s public persona and his work, I’ve got to think this through instead of just hitting pre-order on Amazon. Which sucks. “Ignorance is bliss,” right? Ugh.

Anyway, three must-read posts today. I have a round-up of stuff I’m reading & watching, but that’ll keep til tomorrow.

Chris Roberson was interviewed by Tim Hodler over his… his whole situation, I guess. It’s a great interview. I’m super, super touched that I played even the smallest of small roles in him publicly parting ways with DC.

I can’t really summarize it, except to say that Chris has clearly thought all this stuff through and has a good head on his shoulders. I agree with him, obviously, and you may not, but I don’t think he says anything controversial or false. Please read it. It’s good, and a nice look at what it’s like making corporate comics. He spotlights Kurt Busiek’s fantastic idea about retroactive equity for creators, which I am 100% behind. I’m tired of hearing that the people who created characters I love are destitute and left begging for money every time they get sick. That’s pathetic, and a true failure of the comics industry and basic kindness. You made millions of dollars off a movie? Cool, then you can afford to chip in on the hospital bill of someone who helped turn a kernel of an idea into a comic that then became a movie.

Oh, and Roberson’s bit about there being no Creators section on DC’s website really says it all, don’t it? Welcome to Corporate Comics, 2012.

Heidi Mac chimes in on Before Watchmen from an angle I hadn’t considered. I’ve had email conversations about this recently, actually, and they were eye-opening. I was born in 1983. I didn’t read Watchmen until… I dunno, 2004? I knew it was a Great Work, like I knew that Camus’ The Stranger or Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov are Great Works when I first read them. I didn’t know the actual history of the Great Work, just that I Needed To Read This.

Finding out that DC was pitching Watchmen as a triumph for creators’ rights while the entire community was rallying behind Jack Kirby feels like a sick joke in the light of Before Watchmen. At the time, it was, but then they saw dollar signs and whoops, sorry mates. Before Watchmen is a project that basically flies in the face of any type of advance in creators’ rights. It’s about prizing characters & concepts over creators, strip-mining history in an attempt to shore up today. In that light, Before Watchmen is the ultimate betrayal of what DC once claimed to stand for. It’s taking an icon for the creators’ rights movement and turning it into more grist for the mill.

It’s amazing how each new wrinkle from people who were around when Watchmen was making history and each new interview from DC Comics staff makes me like this project less and less. There’s so much… not lying, exactly, but dissembling and empty hype going on.

The Spacemen example is brutal, too. The only preview DC put out for that series was for the second issue? Even though that exact same team was hot off the best-received Flashpoint tie-in? Who is running things over there?

Tom Spurgeon weighs in on the Roberson interview. Here’s a quick quote that I think is pretty good and relates well to Heidi’s point:

As much as you and I might shake our heads and do the Little Rascals surprise face when we hear someone say some of the things that have been said in support of and defense of Before Watchmen or the Superman lawsuit, imagine how distressing it would be if these were your creative partners, the people on which you hoped to build a foundation for a fulfilling life. The humor in the title is that Watchmen was seen as a creator-rights forward title with ambition; this new thing is certainly reflective of a time before that.

This is also must-reading.

True facts: I would have never written about Before Watchmen if not for Spurgeon. I don’t remember talking about it with him at Emerald City Comicon, but we probably did. But really, what prompted my posts was reading his “Sometimes They Make It Hard To Ignore Creators Issues”. Specifically, this: “I’m not sure I have much of a point here, except maybe please look at this. Look at this.”

That sparked something in me. “Look at this.” I took a look around to see what other people were saying and I realized that the sum total of Before Watchmen opposition online was Spurgeon, Eric Stephenson, and Abhay’s wonderful tumblr. I mean, we all had drive-by jokes on Twitter or in passing in posts… but organized dissent? The sort of thinkpieces that make comics internet interesting and valuable to me as a reader? Zilch.

So I looked at it. I sat down and thought about how I felt and dug up as much as I could on the history and I sat down and wrote The Ethical Rot Behind Before Watchmen & Avengers in maybe an hour and a half, if not an hour, on that Friday. I sent it to a few friends to read over and point out my mistakes and I edited it over the weekend. In between, though, JMS said something stupid about Alan Moore and I threw a jab. One jab turned into two. Two, eventually, turned into five posts about creators’ rights and Alan Moore.

It’s important that we talk about this, whether we is comics press or fans or creators, because no one else is going to. There’s something to be said for an objective press, sure, but part of the role of the press is looking at what the news actually means. Looking at trends, at history, at contradictions, at controversies. The comics press isn’t journalism, but we’re part of that same family tree.

So pointing out that there’s chicanery going on with Before Watchmen or how a company treats creators isn’t negativity. It’s doing our job. It’s shedding a light over wrongdoings that some people would rather were left in the past and unsaid. I mean, yo, if someone is lying in public, you nail them to the wall. You point that out. You don’t hem and haw about whether ethics matter. (They do, and you’re a moron if you think otherwise.) You look at the situation, you consider your own personal values, and you choose your position. You pick whatever feels right for you. There are no easy answers, no. But there are answers. Basic ones.

You like Before Watchmen? Fine! Cool. I get it. You don’t? Also cool! But it is vital that we talk out our positions on this issue. It is very much a creators’ rights issue, something that will have an effect on how the Big Two do business. If we can show them that we prefer that creative types be treated like people, we have a better chance of having a better, healthier comics industry.

So I want to publicly thank Tom Spurgeon for forcing me to put pen to paper, and Shannon O’Leary, writer of the PW piece and the person who asked the tough questions at the LA Times Festival of Books, for showing me that speaking out can actually have an effect in the real world.

I would like it very much if DC and Marvel had to answer as many questions about creators’ rights this year as they do about dumb plot twists and fan-favorite characters. If they dodge the question, they dodge it. But asking the question, and pulling apart their dodge, is honest work. It’s inside baseball, sure, but it’s also necessary. These questions need to be asked.

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Frank Miller on Jack Kirby & Creators’ Rights, 1994

April 18th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

The earliest point in time I can remember hearing about Jack Kirby’s legacy and how the comics industry treats its creators didn’t come from the Marvel comics I’d save or trade for. It came in the first adult comic I ever read, Frank Miller’s Sin City: The Big Fat Kill #5. As a kid, I was much more interested in the nudity, blood, violence, language, and art. As an adult, and after putting a lot of thought into this subject over the past couple years, I can appreciate Miller stumping for Kirby a little better.

I didn’t see this anywhere online, and I’m pretty sure that you can’t actually buy this issue new any more, so here it is: “Keynote Speech By Frank Miller To Diamond Comic Distributors Retailers Seminar, June 12th, 1994”. I’ve pasted the images and OCR’d text below. If you’re gonna quote it, please check against the images. I used Adobe Acrobat’s OCR function to get this done, and may have missed an error or two.

I’ve gotten a lot of requests from readers who heard about what follows and would like to see it. The speech kicked up quite a ruckus- and inspired some wild exaggeration, and at least a few lies by people who didn’t like it. This transcript includes all of my many, many ad-libs and is only lightly edited to remove redundant phrases.

Allow me to set the stage. The hall was gigantic. Somewhere around 3,000 comic-book professionals were there, predominantly retailers, but including representatives of nearly every major publisher, as well as dozens of writers and artists. Following a very generous introduction by Diamond boss Steve Geppi, I stepped up to the podium, stomach lodged squarely in throat…

Let me get started by asking you all to join me in honoring two good men we recently lost. I’m corny enough to ask you to stand up for this part. A round of applause, please, for as dear a friend as comics ever had: Mr. Don Thompson. And another round — let’s make this an even bigger one; I want the walls to shake this time — for the greatest artist in the history of comics, Mr. Jack Kirby.

Well, it’s a pretty big room, but I think you did it. The walls had to shake for Jack, just like they would have on one of his pages.

An age passes with Jack Kirby. Us comics folks, we’re all fond of naming “ages” of comics. We’ve come up with a halfdozen names for them in the last half — dozen years. But a very big age of comics is coming to an end now, and, I’ve got to say, I can’t call it the Marvel Age of Comics, because I don’t believe in rewarding thievery. I call it the Jack Kirby Age of Comics.

By saying this, I mean no disrespect to the outstanding and remarkable works of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and many others. We are in their debt as well. But it was Jack Kirby who defined the style and method of every comics artist who followed him. There is before Kirby, and after Kirby. One age does not resemble the other.

The King is dead. There is no successor to that title. We will never see his like again.

There are many others we should honor tonight. Too many, far too many. Comics have been around long enough for us to lose the generation that gave us the art form and the industry we celebrate tonight. They leave us with their example of the best thing about our weird little corner of art and commerce: their love, their love of comics.

For most of you and me here, I know that love has been lifelong. And to our families, schoolmates, and acquaintances, it’s seemed a little unnatural, hasn’t it? It’s always seemed a little weird, hasn’t it? Bear with me while I tell you about Frankie Markham, and how I fell in love with comics.

I was a skinny kid in grade school. The gangly kind of kid who grows tall too fast and falls down too much playing softball. Frankie Markham was my nemesis. Frankie Markham was mean and ugly and a number of years older than me, a tough-ass farm boy, a bully. He must’ve been all of twelve years old. You know what I mean. A grown-up.

Me, I started out wanting to be Superboy. My mom was kind enough to sew me a Superboy suit, and I often wore it under my school clothes. Only to a crowd like this would I admit that.

There came the day when I had to stop being Superboy. That was the day Frankie Markham slapped me around and punched out my buddy Craig. He punched him so hard it dislodged his braces. Craig was a bloody mess, and I was bawling like a baby. It was all could do, bawl like a baby.

The fantasy was shattered. Superboy would’ve flattened Frankie Markham, or at least used his heat vision. I knew that I couldn’t be Superboy anymore. It was time for this third grader to grow up, so I did. With a new, pragmatic world view, I did the realistic thing. The mature thing. The grown-up thing: I decided I was Spider-Man.

Spider-Man had trouble with bullies, too. They embarrassed him in front of girls. They called him names. But he put up with it, concealing the secret of his awesome power. He put up with it and put up with it, just like me, he put up with it and put up with it, until —

And now my story moves towards its sense-shattering climax. At least I wish it did. I’d love to say that I kicked Frankie Markham’s ass from Vermont to Wisconsin, but I never did that. I never had a fight with Frankie Markham, and I’d have lost it if I had. But I did learn to fight back against the bullies, with my fists and my wits, and Spider-Man helped. I gained courage, I learned to control my arms and legs, and I fought back. Somewhere along the way I even earned Frankie Markham’s respect.

And Spider-Man helped.

It was years later, the last time I saw Frankie Markham. I was driving then, so I must have been about 17 years old. I was driving down some back road of Vermont, and there he was standing by the road, hitchhiking. I pulled over and picked him up and drove him over to some other back road. On the way, he told me that he’d heard I was moving to New York City, and that I was going to become a comic-book artist. He thought that was really cool.

I let him off. I watched him lumber off. I watched Frankie Markham lumber off, down that back road. My old nemesis. All of a sudden he seemed small and sad. Not very often at all, I wonder about what happened to Frankie Markham.

Comics have always been desperately important to me. As a refuge. As inspiration. As a vehicle for my fantasies. As a career. I know I’m not alone, not in this room, in loving what comics are and what they can do. It’s that love that built this industry.

Jack Kirby was the biggest and brightest of a generation that brought so much love to the page that our entire industry is built upon it. It was an amazing generation. An epic generation. When you think about what they did … They clawed their way out of the Great Depression. Just this month, we were celebrating how they stormed the beaches of Normandy, beat Hitler, and quite literally saved the world. And along the way, they, in their generosity, gave us the comic book.

And now I’m lucky enough to be enough of a player in this field to be invited to speak to you all about the future of comics. And I will. But there’s no way to talk about the future of comics without addressing its past. There’s no way to properly understand where we are now and where we are going without looking at where we have been — and our history is so clouded by misconceptions and outright lies that I have to dispel a few of them just to help us all think straight.

Too often our villains have written our history. It’s very important that we keep in mind that up until very recently everything that’s been any damn good about comics has been done in spite of the rules of the game, not because of them. Men like Jack Kirby and Joe [Shuster] and Jerry Siegel and Wallace Wood and Steve Ditko — they brought such generous love to the page, and such joy to our lives, and so much money to our bank accounts, that it is easy to forget, way too easy to forget, that they were treated disgracefully.

Ours is a sad, sorry history. We have to keep that in mind while we’re in this room enjoying this. It’s a story of broken lives. Of suicides. Of brilliant talents treated like galley slaves. Talents denied the legal authorship of what they created with their own hands and minds. Ignored or treated as nuisances while their creations went on to make millions and millions of dollars.

An industry kept alive by love, in spite of all this. The love they gave the page. It’s a powerful thing. We must honor our dead, and we must understand our history. We cannot move forward without looking very clearly at where we have been.

Misconceptions. Outright lies.

Misconceptions. Here’s a whopper. One that has cost us dearly. The dreaded 1950s. Fredric Wertham. The outside world. It seems a week doesn’t go by where I don’t sit down with my Comics Buyer’s Guide and read about somebody, somewhere, fretting about the almighty outside world and how it is bound to notice our adventures are getting more adventurous. Nobody’s come after us in any big way, but there’s a little bit of the stink of censorship in the air, isn’t there? There’s all this noise about Janet Reno and Paul Simon and Beavis & Butt-Head, isn’t there? And we all know what happened last time, don’t we? In the fifties, with Frederic Wertham and the Senate hearings. They shut us down, didn’t they?

The outside world went and noticed us. The United States Senate held hearings and decided comic books caused juvenile delinquency, right? So we had to institute the Comics Code, right? Our backs were against the wall, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong. They didn’t. The Senate vindicated us. Frederic Wertham failed.

This is how screwy our sense of our own history is. Most people in comics don’t realize that the Senate vindicated us. After due consideration, the United States Senate decided comic books were not a cause of juvenile delinquency. We were vindicated.

Why, then, the Comics Code? Abject cowardice, maybe? Maybe, partly, but not entirely.

We were vindicated. Why did the comics industry go and adopt a code of self-censorship far stricter than any in entertainment? Why would a healthy, vital industry selling comics by the truckload — hell, by the trainload — and castrate itself? Why?

The answer may just make you all a little sick to your stomachs. You see, comics publishers in the 1950s had a problem. This problem had a name. Its name was William Gaines.

William M. Gaines was the rarest of creatures, a brilliant publisher. His EC Comics outsold everybody else’s comics by a long shot because they were better than anybody else’s comics. By a long shot. The other publishers couldn’t compete with him. Not fairly, anyway. So they used the free-floating fear of the time to shut him down. If you read the Comics Code — and I have — you’ll see that it was written with no purpose more noble than driving EC Comics out of business. That was its purpose, and it succeeded at it [waving a copy of Americana in Four Colors, a booklet published by the Comics Code].

I can back this up. I’ve got a copy of the Comics Code right here [ripping the cover off the booklet].

Excuse me, but I’m having some trouble opening it. Here are a couple of examples of the Comics Code. General Standards, Part A, Paragraph 11: “The letters of the word ‘crime’ should never be greater appreciably in dimension than other words contained on a cover. The word ‘crime’ should never appear alone on a cover.” See ya, Johnny Craig [ripping pages from the booklet, throwing them away].

And here is General Standards, Part B, Paragraph A: “No comic magazine shall use the word ‘horror’ or ‘terror’ in its title.”

A noble effort, folks.

That’s why we had that damn stupid Comics Code for all these years. Not to protect children. Not to satisfy the United States Senate. Not to mollify Frederic Wertham. We were stuck with the Comics Code for all those dumb decades because a pack of lousy comics publishers in the ’50s wanted to shut down Bill Gaines.

Misconceptions. That one continues to haunt us. Because of something that never happened, our industry cringes like a battered child every time there’s a hint of a threat from the outside world. Every few years, the fear talk starts again. Every few years, the producers of stories about heroes who never give up start whimpering that we should fold up our tents and surrender to an enemy who hasn’t even shown up.

These days, the fashionable form of self-censorship is a rating system, so that’s what people suggest. Cover advisories are waved like a magic wand that will chase away the censors. Cover advisories. Little apologies printed on the corner of covers. Nobody will bother us if we apologize … if the storm troopers come after us, we’ll be safe if we say we’re sorry …

Come on! What kind of self-delusion is that? Did cover advisories help Omaha the Cat Dancer or Yummy Fur or any of the other comics seized in busts? No! It pointed them out, if anything. That’s the first reason why cover advisories are a bad idea: they simply don’t work. All they do is save the censors a little time.

Please understand: I believe you should know what you’re ordering. Solicitation forms should tell you if a given comic might be trouble, so you can make your informed choice in your shop in your community as to how you want to handle the comic — or if you want to carry it at all. That’s your decision. And it’s my duty to put together my comic so that the format, the price point, and the cover honestly represent the contents.

It’s a matter of choices, yours and mine, and whether or not we’ll be left free to make our own.

I know I’m not out there on the front lines like you all are. Nobody’s going to storm into my studio and take my brushes and pens and paper away. But we are in this together, and when you lose, I lose.

That’s why I’m happy to report that I’ve been given at least some opportunity to help. Denis Kitchen broke the cowardly tradition of comics history by creating the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the first organization designed to fight censorship rather than surrender to it. Denis invited me to join its board of directors, and, not giving them a chance to come to their senses, I accepted the post.

We have to be brave, when and if the censors come. We have to stand up and stand together and give the bully a bloody nose. Apologies will only encourage the Frankie Markhams out there to come back for more.

There’s another reason, more serious and more subtle, why cover advisories are the first step toward disaster in our future. We are not part of the electronic media. We don’t play the same game with the censors that Hollywood does. We’re part of a smaller, better industry: publishing.

Bookstores don’t apologize for selling books for adults. Writers of prose don’t submit their works to a pack of rating system bureaucrats, or sit down with their notepad or computer when they get a good idea and think “are we talking about an ‘R’ here?” Book publishers use the First Amendment of the United States Constitution as a shield against censorship.

Cover advisories have a corrosive effect. I’ll be bold enough to say that every time a publisher uses one — every time an artist allows a cover advisory on his work — he is, in a small way, cutting away at the tether that connects us to the book industry and its First Amendment protection. Every cover advisory is a signal to lazy parents and opportunistic politicians that we are theirs for the taking.

We’re better than that. We’ve got too much love for that. We won’t let misconceptions about our own history ruin our own future. We’re better than that.

Misconceptions. Outright lies. Too often our history has been written by its villains.

Lies. Here’s a string of them, and all about the same man: Neal Adams is crazy. Neal Adams just didn’t like to work. Neal Adams was just being a troublemaker.

I can testify, as a firsthand witness: if there’s ever an accurate history of comics written, Neal Adams will be recognized not just as a brilliant and influential artist, but as a visionary, as a pioneer. As one of the heroes of the field. And if our future is as bright as I believe it can be, Neal Adams will be appreciated as the man who helped us turn a crucial corner toward that future.

I was there. I can testify. Neal Adams recognized that the talent was treated disgracefully. As much as he loved the doing of comics — l’ve never seen anybody work harder! Anybody who saw him can testify to this. Even the flu didn’t stop this guy — as much as he loved the doing, Neal was willing to sacrifice hours and days that amounted to years of a brilliant career, all to gain some measure of justice for Siegel and [Shuster] and others.

These days, cartoonists negotiate over how high a royalty is to be paid, not whether or not any will be paid at all. Neal came into a field where royalties were unheard of. A field where publishers routinely allowed original artwork to be stolen or shredded — did you know that at least one major publisher used to routinely shred the original artwork?

Picture something from the Golden Age. Something by your favorite artist. Joe Kubert, whoever, Carmine Infantino. Back then the originals were bigger [gesturing to indicate page size]. Now imagine taking this Joe Kubert page, and shoving it into a shredder and watching the little fingers come out the other end [miming action described]. I’ve just described to you the first work that one publisher gave to several comic book writers I know.

Neal was one of the very few people who helped change all this — and along the way, he taught a younger generation, my generation, that our work was worthy of respect. That our efforts deserved to be rewarded. That our families need not go hungry while our creations went on to make millions.

He taught me. He showed me that company loyalty at that time was an oxymoron that only a moron could believe. He had to be very patient. We don’t really learn until it happens to us, do we? And there’s always that little voice that says, “That was a long time ago, what they did to Siegel and [Shuster] and Kirby and Ditko… ”

So it’s no wonder that a lot of us were surprised when we learned that seventeen years of loyal service and spectacular sales didn’t buy Chris Claremont one whit of loyalty from Marvel Comics.

That was just one of many lessons learned by my generation, and now that we’ve learned them, it’s astounding to find out how many allies Neal Adams had — and how well they disguised themselves. A few months ago, I read a release from Defiant Comics and found out that Jim Shooter has spent his whole career fighting for creators’ rights. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

I knew Shooter was talented and accomplished. I knew he had something to do with the Legion of Super-Heroes. I had no idea he was Duo Damsel.

Misconceptions. Lies.

Here’s one lie you can almost forgive, given the current condition of its source. Marvel Comics is trying to sell you all on the notion that the characters are the only important component in comics. As if nobody ever had to create those characters. As if the audience is so brain-dead it can’t tell a good job from a bad one. You can almost forgive them this, since their characters aren’t leaving them in droves like the talent is.

For me, it’s a bit of a relief to finally see Marvel’s old work-made-for-hire, talent-don’t-matter mentality put to the test. We’ve all seen the results. They aren’t even rearranging the deck chairs.

And the way Marvel’s treating you all — the things I’ve been hearing about… I’d half expect that if I snuck past Terry Stewart’s secretary and through his office and into the board room and saw who the real boss is at Marvel, I might just find out what happened to Frankie Markham after all!

Marvel Comics has been caught flat-footed and dumbstruck by a sea change in our industry. They are paying the price for separating the talent from the characters. As if one is worth a damn without the other. They’re showing why creator ownership is so important, not just to me — that’s obvious — but to you as well.

Work-made-for-hire isn’t just bad for artists. It’s bad for business. Your business.

When I’m out on the road at conventions or store signings, there’s one question I get asked just about every time. Comics fans are generally a very polite bunch, but some anger usually shows when they ask this question:

“How come people don’t stay on books?”

“We loved your Batman. Why didn’t you stay? We loved your Daredevil. Why didn’t you stay?”

There’s a whole pile of answers to that one. You run out of steam. You have a fight with your collaborator. Blah, blah, blah. Things happen. But the main reason a lot of us leave best-selling titles for work-made-for-hire publishers is simple: You get sick of feeling like a schmuck.

Don’t get me wrong, here. Like everybody else of my generation, I knew the score coming in. I knew that I was playing with the company’s toys. I knew that any characters I created would be turned into cannon fodder for other people. I knew that when I was promised that nobody else would be allowed to write Elektra, I knew that promise would be kept right up until the moment it was convenient for them to break it, which is exactly what they did. I knew all my efforts wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans if some editor wanted my job. or had a buddy who did, and fired me. No matter how well the book was selling.

Don’t take my word for that one. Ask Chris Claremont. Ask Louise Simonson. Ask Jo Duffy.

Yeah, I knew all that. And I knew that I was strip-mining the past instead of building the future. That was the game, and I knew it, and I played it, and I had a ball. But after a while I did start feeling like a schmuck. So I took the risk and broke away and signed on with a younger publisher, Dark Horse, one of many new publishers who has come along to offer better terms. Publishers not trapped in the old grab-it-all, keep-it-all ways.

And I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. I own Sin City. Nothing can be done with Sin City without my permission. I can’t keep my hands off Sin City. I love Sin City. The love we give the page. It’s a powerful thing.

And now I can finally give that angry fan an answer he might like. An answer I could never have given him before.

If it’s Sin City, I write it. If it’s Sin City, I draw it. That’s a promise. No exceptions. No fill-in issues. That’s a promise. It’s a promise I can make only because I own Sin City.

The creator bound to his creation. The creator in charge of his creation. It’s better for me, and it’s better for you. Things are on their way to getting a whole lot better for both of us. But, still, the old, fearful mindset persists. The old self-contempt. And never has it been more shamelessly displayed than in the resentment and hatred that’s been aimed at Image Comics.

For decades, rotten business practices caused a steady, slow brain drain, driving talent away one by one. One by one. Each individual artist or writer, more or less replaceable. There were always new kids to come along and feed the machine.

Then along came ringmaster Todd McFarlane and his amazing friends. Instant millionaires, I’m told. Their popularity at a fever pitch. They had it made. They had money. They had fame. They had no reason to leave — except that they were smart enough to realize that the best you can get under work-made-for-hire is the status of a well-paid servant.

So they left. Brilliantly, they left all at once.

Consider this: Todd McFarlane and his pals turned their back on guaranteed wealth. Guaranteed fame. They risked all of that on something that had never been tried before — an imprint that represented a group of artists rather than a bankroll.

And it was a gamble. It never seems that way when a gamble works out, but I am sure Todd and Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld each had long nights, when they wondered if they’d made the biggest mistake of their lives.

They gambled and won. They shattered the work-made-for-hire mentality, showing how unnecessary it is. Even more surprisingly, they broke Marvel’s stranglehold on the marketplace. The kids went with them.

And people hate them for it.

Consider this: The best-selling comic book in the country is creator-owned. And artists aren’t celebrating. Too many of us are acting like galley slaves complaining that the boat is leaking.

Consider this: I wrote an issue of Spawn and was called a sellout — but nobody called me a sellout when I did Dark Knight and made more money from Batman than Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, and Dick Sprang ever made combined.

Consider this: Because of Image Comics, artists enjoy new opportunities and are paid better, even at Marvel Comics.

And nobody’s said “thank you.”

Let me be the first, then. Gentlemen. Thank you.

And, speaking as one of us who was out in the trenches a few years earlier, you’re welcome, too.

And now Image has inspired Legend and Bravura and, I’m sure, other talent-based imprints to come. We are headed for better times and better comics.

There are new self-publishers, and new publishers ready to offer fair and honorable terms. New homes for new creations — in a field that has been starving for something new and fresh. The future of comics.

I know this has been a scary time for many of you, maybe all of you. The Marvel Age of superhero universes, the Jack Kirby Age of Comics, is coming to an end. It’s gone supernova and burned itself out and begun its slow, steady collapse into a black hole.

We couldn’t feed off the genius of Jack Kirby forever. The King is dead, and he has no successor. We will never see his like again. No single artist will replace him. No art form can expect to be gifted with more than one talent as brilliant as his. The rest of us, we will build upon what he gave us. We’ll bring our best efforts, our own quirky, mischievous, and rude efforts. We’ll screw up, we’ll get lucky, we’ll do right, we’ll do wrong. We’ll make comics that are diverse and wild. We’ll take chances.

We’ll need you to take chances, too. When you hear about next week’s new work-made-for-hire superhero universe, please don’t stifle that yawn. Take a chance on the new comics. Look for the ones where the creator has every reason to stay and can’t be fired because he owns it, because it is his, and it is him.

It’s a scary time because change is always scary. But all the pieces are in place for a new, proud era, a new age of comics. And nothing’s standing in our way, nothing too awfully big. Nothing except some old, bad habits and our own fears. We won’t let them stop us. We’ll drop them off on some back road, like I did with Frankie Markham. We won’t wonder what happened to them. Not very often, we won’t. We won’t let them stop us.

I don’t post this to pretend like it’s Miller’s opinion today (though I figure it probably is still pretty close) or that it’s something I believe in 100%. I do think it’s fascinating that most of what he says still applies to the industry today. Even the Image stuff has kinda come around back to this point, with Image being new and exciting and Marvel feeling like yesterday’s toast a little too often.

It’s sort of depressing, actually. Legend and Bravura are no more, though a few of those guys are still making new work. We didn’t really enter a new age, as near as I can tell, as let the Jack Kirby Age limp on and on while the real world caught up to comics. Comics was forced into a new age, instead of pioneering a new one. Manga, webcomics, the internet as a discussion and delivery system, archival projects, book publishers taking notice… I don’t think Miller, or anyone, saw any of that coming, and Miller even had a hand in trying to get manga mainstream over here.

I’m maybe being unfair when I say it was forced into a new age, though. I thought of Image publisher Eric Stephenson’s post about the past twenty years in new comics while I was editing this, both as counterpoint and complement, and I realized that we’ve got a wealth of great comics now and an incredible comics culture. Maybe The Jack Kirby Age went away and now we’re in… I don’t know, I hesitate to name it because it’s so formless and open. The Chaotic Age of Comics.

Anything goes. I’ve spent the past couple weeks obsessing over Leiji Matsumoto (who has skipped in and out of the conversations I’ve been having online), reading One Piece and Toriko a couple weeks after they’re published in Japan, plotting the best way to binge on these three Peanuts hardcovers I have without burning myself out (I think burnout is impossible, but anything can happen), gawking at art books by Katsuhiro Otomo and Katsuya Terada, checking out the Extreme relaunch (which is introducing me to new artists), buying old Frank Miller/Bill Sienkiewicz comics used off the internet, reading Moebius and Jodorowsky’s The Incal for the first time ever, stocking up on 2000 AD, and more besides. I know the specifics of what I’ve been consuming are pretty idiosyncratic, but I don’t think my habits (the fact that I’m pulling from then and now and here and there simultaneously) are that weird, are they? Maybe that’s selection bias, but most people I know take in all types of comics from various periods of time. Even the cape lifers mix it up.

I think what I’m trying to say is that in this new, post-Kirby age, is that all, or at least a significant portion, of comics history is at my beck and call, and that the various types of comics — Japanese, European, newspaper strip, tights and fights, crime, romance — exist on basically the same plane. When I reach out to my shelf or look to my Amazon wish list, there’s this incredible spread of stuff for me to read, all of it different from its neighbors. I just went and looked at my list and like… there’s a short story manga collection, there’s a Wolverine comic I’m not gonna buy, there’s a manga about The Lourve drawn by Hirohiko Araki, a manga about geisha, a Sergio Aragones hardcover… there’s a level of choice in what’s out there for me to read that I never felt growing up. It’s spread across genre and style and country of origin, and even books that share three out of three might be totally different from each other in execution. That feels good. That feels like the epitome of what Stephenson is talking about.

But at this point, I’m rambling and Sandman Sims is on the way to rush me offstage. I hope you found Miller’s speech interesting or enlightening, and I’m curious what you think this age of comics is defined by. For me, it’s the embarrassment of riches. Is it something else for you?

As a sidebar, this essay actually warped my understanding of exploitation in comics as I grew up. Miller’s mostly on point here, and 100% on point from an emotional/justice standpoint, I think. He’s not quite right about a few of the specifics, though, and Chris Eckert has the much-needed corrections over here and more besides. It doesn’t dilute Miller’s overall point by much, though, but it’s worth mentioning if only to keep the conversation about this basically fact-based.

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“Don’t worry if I write rhymes. I write checks.”

April 15th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Y’all have probably seen this clip from The Wire before. I think Matt Maxwell tossed it on Twitter a few weeks back, and I know I put it on tumblr shortly after. It’s about chicken nuggets and being rewarded for innovation. I’d embed it, but HBO hates the internet, so here’s a transcript:

Wallace: Yo, D, you want some nuggets?
D’Angelo: Nah, g’head, man.
Wallace: Man, whoever invented these, yo, he off the hook.
Poot: What?
Wallace: Mm! Motherfucker got the bone all the way out the damn chicken. ’til he came along, niggas been chewin’ on drumsticks and shit, gettin’ they fingers all greasy. He said later for the bone, let’s nugget that meat up and make some real money.
Poot: You think the man got paid?
Wallace: Who?
Poot: The man who invented these.
Wallace: Shit, he richer than a motherfucker.
D’Angelo: Why? You think he get a percentage?
Wallace: Why not?
D’Angelo: Nigga please. The man who invented them things just some sad-ass down at the basement of McDonald’s, thinkin’ up some shit to make some money for the real players.
Poot: Naw, man, that ain’t right.
D’Angelo: Fuck “right.” It ain’t about right, it’s about money. Now you think Ronald McDonald gonna go down in that basement and say, “Hey, Mr. Nugget, you the bomb. We sellin’ chicken faster than you can tear the bone out. So I’m gonna write my clowny-ass name on this fat-ass check for you”?
Wallace: Shit.
D’Angelo: Man, the nigga who invented them things still workin’ in the basement for regular wage, thinkin’ up some shit to make the fries taste better or some shit like that. Believe.
Wallace: He still had the idea though.

edit: Whoops, found an embeddable:

What sucks about this is how it shows both how the comics industry isn’t special — down here we all float, baby — and how… poisonous and mercenary and amoral this sort of thinking is. You can argue justice til you’re blue in the face, but that’s not what matters. When you’re a business, right isn’t even part of the equation. You’re only responsible for making sure that the money you make this year is more than what you made last year within the letter of the law. If the law doesn’t explicitly say you should treat your people well, then hey. Guess what: you don’t have to do it. You can strip mine a man’s ideas and give him the boot when you’re bored.

Did y’all know Frank Miller used to get a “created by” credit for Elektra? You can see it in that borderline unreadable Elektra: Root of Evil book that DG Chichester and Scott McDaniel produced in ’95. Part of his deal with Marvel was a promise, I dunno if it was written or verbal, that they wouldn’t bring Elektra back to life after she died. He left, and they brought her back to life. At first, they gave him a creator credit. Then they stopped. And just like that, the guy who made Elektra matter was stitched out of the narrative. She’s intellectual property now.

What’s so bothersome about McDonald’s vs Mr Nugget is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Common sense tells you that if you reward invention, you’re much more likely to get more of it. When a toddler poops in the toilet for the first time, you laugh and cheer and smile to show him he did good. (This analogy is terrible.) That encourages his behavior and makes him more likely to keep it up. We put kids on the honor roll to show them that there’s a reward for getting good grades, a certain level of prestige. You buy your old lady a wedding ring because she’s better than all the others out there, and it is important to you to maintain that relationship forever. (That’s what we call love, kiddo. You’ll understand when you’re older.) It’s gratitude and support, yeah?

Work-for-hire is fine. That’s not the problem. You can work on other people’s property and do a great job and create something with artistic merit or just really great drawings of bathtubs or whatever. It’s the culture around work-for-hire that’s the problem, where innovators are just cogs in the machine to be spun until they wear out. It’s where Batman is bigger than the people who make him.

Look at it like this. Alan Moore put his name on the map with Swamp Thing, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and Miracleman, right? There were others, but I feel like those are the biggest milestones. DC published three out of those four, along with other books like Batman: The Killing Joke and that one Green Lantern story about sound. He gave DC a lot, especially since you can basically draw a line from Swamp Thing to the birth of Vertigo, but contract disputes and a foolhardy ratings system chased him out in the late ’80s.

Outside of DC, but still in a similar vein, he worked on books like 1963, Supreme, WildCATs, Youngblood, and more. He eventually launched his own cape-y line with America’s Best Comics, at which point DC promptly bought ABC’s parent company Wildstorm and began publishing Moore comics again. When Moore left again, the ABC comics were tainted and faded away.

Now imagine if DC had bent just a little and done some work to keep Moore under their wings. It takes a minimal amount of work to see how any of his cape-oriented ’90s work could easily be transplanted to the DC Universe. I mean, Supreme was “He’s Superman, But A Dick” and Moore switched him up to be more Silver Age. Imagine if Moore had been around when Vertigo kicked off, and DC would’ve been more open to works like From Hell. They probably wouldn’t have published Lost Girls, but if they’d thought “right” before “profit” just once, they could’ve reaped the rewards of having one of comics’ best writers in their stable for the next twenty years.

But, nah, that’s all hypothetical. It’s very easy to sit around and make things up about what could have/should have/would have happened. If we’re dealing with the real, then we’re dealing with Before Watchmen, a prequel to a twenty-six year old comic. We’re dealing with Swamp Thing being stuck in a cycle that keeps coming back around to shed further light on “The Anatomy Lesson” because the shadow Moore cast on that book is so large.

I’m not saying that the Big Two have gotta give up all rights to the characters and content. But throw some incentives at the creators, give them greater input into how these characters and stories are gonna shake out, push the creators as hard as you push the characters, give them a bonus if something blows up huge… do something to keep them happy. You’d gain so much goodwill from your creative staff, you’d have a lot more property to exploit, you’d have people getting even more invested in the work they do for you even if they don’t own it because they know you’ll take care of them.

It’s such a no-brainer. It’s so obvious that it can’t possibly be true. Marvel having Icon lets them keep Matt Fraction and Brian Bendis on lock even while they write Marvel’s marquee IP. Why not expand that?

My favorite part of that scene is when Wallace goes “He still had the idea though.” ’cause in the end, behind all the business and exploitation and sadness… these people had some amazing ideas. The Black Racer, John Constantine, Elektra, Howard the Duck… Marvel and DC can’t claim creativity, no matter how many crappy contracts they’ve churned out and creators they’ve burned. That belongs to Jack Kirby, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Steve Gerber, and dozens more.

I don’t have a new or profound point here, I guess. I just wanted to talk this out, while I’m figuring out where I stand and where I should be standing.

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Frank Miller: Best In Flight

March 23rd, 2012 Posted by david brothers

One thing I’ve long enjoyed about Frank Miller’s work is how he draws a body in flight. Not in motion, though he’s good at that too, but in flight. Leaping, falling, swinging, jumping, or flying. He has this way of suggesting bodies flashing past at high speeds and spinning through the air that’s… elegant, is the closest word I can think of for it. Especially mid- to late-era Miller. The big splash in Dark Knight Returns — you know the one, if not, guess and you’ll probably be right — is obviously cool, but it’s not as raw and frantic as his Sin City and 300 work. I actually have a selfish wish that he’d gotten to do a real Spider-Man job at some point over the years, just because he’s so good at this and he’s fond of lean, scrawny heroes. Would’ve been the best leap forward in Spider-stylings since Todd McFarlane.

I like this page from the end of 300, color by Lynn Varley:

I love the claustrophobic stillness on that first page. Everything is on hold, like a pregnant pause. Every panel is one still moment, fraught with tension. I actually love the little zoom from “You there, Ephialtes.” to “May you live forever.” And then, at the peak of the stillness, “Stelios.” And then:

Stelios coming out of formation and into the air. This is Stelios on the way down, long after his leap. He’s all muscle, whether leg or arm, and his cape is all the way Batmanned out. There’s such a shift between these two pages, from claustrophobia to freedom, maybe. Anyway.

I can’t decide which page of Holy Terror is my favorite. Here’s one of them, though.

Miller does some of his best work yet in the service of a story that doesn’t even deserve it. He also does some of his worst work, so I guess it evens out. But this page of Fixer chasing Natalie Stack is like a shot across the bow of cape comics, most particularly the ones that sit in Miller’s lane: Spider-Man, Daredevil, Punisher, all those books that feature dudes running across rooftops and through alleys in New York.

There isn’t even a lot to this page. The building is a raggedy amalgamation of every building ever. Look how thin it is, how many pipes and antennas sit on top of it, and that useless pipe going down the side. The night sky is just a splash of white with a smudge of black clouds providing flavor. But look at Natalie Stack flipping up and over that pipe. Feet together, arms in the process of flexing, and body nearly horizontal. There’s a sense of momentum in her body language. She looks like people do when they jump over fences at high speeds. She’s not just climbing or running. She’s moving.

And then there’s that fist. The staging here is great. You’ll occasionally get a story where Batman lurks in the shadows for part of an issue (most recently in David Lapham & Ramon Bachs’s City of Crime, I think), but by and large, if there’s a hero on the page, he takes precedence over everything. Not here. Here you just have a fist and a taut rope. You don’t even have to see the Fixer to know that he’s moving fast. All you have to do is let the image sink in a little. Think about that taut rope, the angle of his arm and where his body is likely positioned.

I also love the punctuation-less word balloon, something that too few comics creators utilize these days. “Oof.” has a different impact on your brain than “oof” does. Exclamation points are excitement. Periods are flat. A lack of punctuation has a sound and import all its own. It should be a tool in the toolbox, rather than an exception.

Another favorite:

The rope, the loops, the soles of the Fixer and Natalie’s feet… I just love how this looks. People talk a lot about flying representing freedom. The freedom to go anywhere and do anything at will. Freedom in its purest form. Nobody can tell you “No” or hold you back. But nobody ever talks about swinging. You don’t remember being a kid and that vicious thrill you got when you could swing on a rope or slap your way down the monkey bars at recess? Of sitting in a swing, getting up as high as you can, kicking your shoes off even higher, and then launching yourself into the air to risk either death or glory?

I don’t want to over-sell the feeling, but I grew up in and around areas where monkey bars were everywhere and chain link and wooden fences were even easier to find. But there’s definitely a thrill, every single time, when you don’t climb a fence so much as leap over it, pushing yourself up and over. It’s different from flying and falling, but equally dangerous. It’s like the bastard child of both of them. You could screw around and catch your hand on the sharp part of the fence instead of the round pole, or misjudge your jump and land on the fence or worse. But if you hit it just right, that combination of momentum and weightlessness kicks in and you feel real good. It’s a thrill.

That’s what that page feels like.

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Brothers x Witzke: On How We Talk About Watchmen

March 19th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I had some thoughts about how we talk about Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen after that last interview made the rounds. I think it’s about as good as everyone says it is, but I don’t agree that everything else is as awful in comparison. It’s a nebulous, annoying conversation to have, because there are so many variables to take into account–who’s saying it’s the best, what publishers allow creators to do, and on and on. Anyway, I wrote something up and emailed it to a few friends. Sean Witzke, supervillain, hit me with a response that I thought was really valuable. So, here: point/counterpoint, with David and Sean.

David: Alan Moore gave another interview, and that means that we’ve got another chance to think about how DC screwed him and how all modern comics suck and are just suckling at his literary teat even to this day. He’s upped the ante this time to saying that Watchmen, his masterwork with Dave Gibbons, is not only the best superhero comic ever and constantly ripped off, but single-handedly saved the comics industry, too, because the industry was in shambles in the early ’80s and then turned around after Watchmen came out. Which is demonstrably untrue, but whatever. More interesting is his idea that Watchmen is still the best cape comic ever.

You can’t really blame him for holding that position. Watchmen is a crystal of a comic book, self-reflective and reflective of our culture (at a certain point anyway) simultaneously. The writing is on point, the art is on point, and it’s a really good comic in general, no matter how I feel about the plot or whatever. It’s the real deal, and everyone’s said it over and over. So it’s no wonder that Moore looks at that book, and at what people have said about it, and at the current comics industry, and says what he says. Watchmen is the one comic, above all others, that gets the praise it does.

Watchmen is generally treated as Best Comic by the comics industry and its fans. It’s credited with moving cape comics past their genre roots, being a high watermark for cape comics, and the source of the brutality, ennui, and trauma that we think of whenever someone says the phrase “’90s comics.”

I don’t think any of these are strawmen that I’m setting up just to knock them down, either. Watchmen is consistently the one book that everyone (the generic, anecdotal everyone, so maybe this is a strawman, but I sure hope not) recommends to new readers or readers who want a bit of maturity. Watchmen was the only comic on Time’s Top 100 Novels list a few years back. When we look at the ’90s, you often hear that people “learned the wrong lessons from” or “missed the point of” Watchmen. Watchmen is a big deal, deservedly so, but I can’t help but feel like it is a bigger deal than it should be, if only due to received wisdom and a lack of a strong resource for comics history.

The Best Comic thing sticks in my craw the most, I think, because it’s such a fake idea. I can’t think of a Best Movie or Best Song, or even Best Western or Best Rap Song. It’s such a broad brush to paint a work, and therefore a genre, with that it doesn’t even make sense. No one out there is saying that anyone who watches movies absolutely has to watch Carol Reed’s The Third Man or Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. They might recommend those to you, but always as a part of a spectrum of must-watch films. “Oh yeah, watch this, that, this Kurosawa over here, and this De Palma once you finish that.” I like this wikipedia list of films considered the best, because it’s so diverse. The IMDB list is varied, too. I disagree with a lot of them (The Dark Knight is in the top ten?), but it’s still interesting to look at. I think it’s notable that no one film on this list has the same status amongst a broad subsection of movie fans (movie watchers? “people?”) as Watchmen does amongst comics fans. Ask ten people the best movie and you’ll get a variety of answers. Ask ten comics fans and probably at least half of them will say Watchmen. Why does Watchmen get the Best Comic treatment, other than being good?

Part of it is that Watchmen is the result of a conscious effort to make a literary comic. It’s not just about entertainment or ongoing adventures. It’s about competing with Moby Dick, or making a work intended to operate on that same level. Which is admirable, to be sure. The vast majority of cape comics are bent toward direct entertainment, which I think is also pretty admirable. But it has the effect of making Watchmen a stranger in a strange land. It’s got capes, but it’s exotic, too, because of that literary influence.

Conventional wisdom holds that Watchmen represents a watershed moment in comics, is partially at fault for the excesses of the ’90s, and is the peak of cape comics. You won’t find none better. I used to agree with that, more or less, but I don’t think I do any more. Watchmen wasn’t a quantum leap forward into a new context so much as it was another step in a road comics had already begun. It was step six, rather than an all-new step one. The idea of cape comics for adults, or cape comics that deal with heavy themes, had already been broached, most especially by Steve Gerber and several other cats working at Marvel in the ’70s. I feel like there’s this idea that Watchmen is the point when cape comics went from goo-goo ga-ga baby stuff to actual books adults could read — comic books blossomed into *~Graphic Novels~*, essentially. And that isn’t true, either.

You can track what led to Watchmen in cape comics, in pretty concrete terms, too, I’d argue. I’m far from an expert (an understatement), but you can find prior examples of the flawed in Lee & Ditko’s Peter Parker and Lee & Kirby’s Ben Grimm. You could look at several characters in Watchmen as examples of what happens when that flawed hero stops trying to be a hero. Rorshach is the opposite, even–he’s a hero who has no business being a hero, but keeps at it out of sheer hard-headedness.

The bleak miasma that gives Watchmen its tone, the sense of unrest and doom infests the book, feels very ’70s to me. That’s when Marvel was going hard with the idea of uncertainty and unrest, whether it was Luke Cage appropriating superhero iconography in order to escape a return to prison and make a buck or Spider-Man losing when it counts and not being able to do a single solitary thing about it. The Heroes for Hire area of ’70s Marvel, the Luke Cages and Shang Chis and Misty Knights, feels particularly relevant here, as their stories often dealt in moral ambiguity or a distrust of the establishment. Many of Marvel’s heroes were outlaws first, too, at least in the eyes of the public.

What I’m trying to say is that Watchmen is definitely a watershed moment, due mainly to the level of craft and approach that it brought to cape-based material, but it isn’t an unprecedented one, and I think that’s an important factor that we often leave out when we discuss Watchmen and its influence. If Watchmen never happened, I’d bet cash money that the ’90s, the ideal of the ’90s that most of us hold, would’ve still happened more or less as they did. The hallmarks of the ’90s, whether you’re talking pouches or grittiness or realism or whatever, were set in motion long before Watchmen happened.

The moral ambiguity, the physical and emotional trauma, the poison that hammered comics in the ’90s, all of that has its roots in the very beginning of the Marvel universe, when Stan and Jack and Steve and them were revolutionizing comics and making them cool again. They set comics down a road that inevitably leads to clones and crossovers and whatever else. There’s a logical progression from “Spider-Man screwed up, but now he tries harder” to “Spider-Man fails the love of his life and gets her killed” to “Spider-Man is a clone/crazy” to “Spider-Man is hardcore now.” It’s upping the ante on the flawed hero, bit by bit. The fallen hero and anti-hero are just another take on that same basic idea, which is itself another take on an even older idea.

Watchmen is very good, sure. It’s a high watermark for comics, but I don’t buy that it’s Best Comic. It deserves its place in the canon, it earned its place, but the highly elevated status we’ve given it is at least partially in error. It’s warped the conversation about the content of comics, the skill level, and comics history. It’s actually really frustrating to me, because I’m making an effort to go back and learn this stuff so I don’t put my foot in my mouth constantly, and Watchmen has twice the gravity of anything else. It’s hard to get around, and more than that, it’s hard to unlearn. Watchmen‘s GOAT status is a self-fulfilling prophecy, it feels like at this point.

Now that I’m done with this, I sorta feel like I’m saying “Watchmen is overrated.” That’s both not my point (in the sense of snarky dismissals) and my actual point at the same time (in the sense of taking a realistic look at comics history). Strange place to be.

Sean: Well, here’s the thing, though –there is a movie — Citizen Kane. And Watchmen totally is Citizen Kane, it’s the one work of art you have to reckon with, reconcile. Either disregard and burn down despite it’s legendary status (because its so boring, and so processed and its old and everyone who took from it took the wrong thing just like Watchmen) or realize that, yes, it is a masterpiece despite all those things.

I don’t know, you could also say that Pulp Fiction has a lot more similarities to Watchmen, because it spawned a million horrible tics and a million 70s references. So many bad tone deaf movies, but it also helped change the way movies were made and released. I mean, I just saw an interview with Paul Thomas Anderson where he said that Tarantino wasn’t an influence on Boogie Nights, but the reason he got to make it at all is because he was coming after Pulp Fiction.

I always think all the bad 90s grim and gritty hallmarks are so much like that. Because the ninjas and assassins and pouches and teeth, all of those things come from guys honestly making things they were interested in. They all became received wisdom, the way that Neal Adams and Gil Kane did for the previous generation. The 00s are a lot like the 80s, especially in comics, because there was such a rejection of the previous set of what is cool that it’s just knee-jerk “oh god 90s”. Which is kind of right, because there’s so much to be rightfully rejected, but in comics, everything was thrown out. Now the weirdest, worst things are all slipping back in from the 90s because we’ve got a good gap of time. There’s a reason that Dave Gibbons was playing with flat/exaggerated facial expressions, there’s a reason that Frank Miller was writing ninjas, because he wanted to write about honor, there’s a reason Moore wanted to discuss fascism with Steve Ditko’s iconography, there’s a reason Art Adams exaggerated gesture. I don’t think you can blame those guys for anything. All the people that came after them, yeah they fucked up. That’s not their fault. Anymore than it’s Moebius’ fault for Tron Legacy.

And beyond just Watchmen, there’s big works in all sorts of genre and media. There’s Moby Dick, there’s 7 Samurai, there’s Akira, and Pinnocchio, and Metropolis and the Twilight Zone, and The Godfather II, and Die Hard, and David Copperfield, and Illmatic, and Goodfellas, and the Searchers, and Star Wars, and I Robot – there’s all sorts of THE GRAND WORK in all sorts of media/genre, that you have to at least give your time, where if you’re going to take the genre seriously you have to give it your time because even if it isn’t the greatest thing you’ve ever been exposed to. Hopefully it isn’t, because if you have a certain level of tastes you’re going to have more personal preferences/ tastes — but you’ve got to reckon with that shit. If you like comics, you have to have really given Watchmen your time because of where it is in the medium, even if you fucking hate it. I hated Citizen Kane the first 3 times I watched it but I knew that I should keep giving it a chance. I’m not a Metallica guy, but I know that Master of Puppets is the “best” metal album.

Here’s the real thing that Watchmen did though, and I didn’t realize it until Abhay pointed it out for me. Watchmen said that you could take this material (superheroes, alternate reality stories) and tell a finite, complete story with it. There could be intertextuality and generational narratives and have legitimate minor characters, and actual consequences and politics. Stories, stories that matter, they have ends. And Watchmen is the first story that was taken to the real world (whether or not it was the first really doesn’t matter, the revolution starts when people notice fires in the street not when the plans are drafted) and said “oh yeah this stuff can actually work as a novel, it’s not just endless soap opera/pulp/sitcom that you can walk in and out of at any time because its an endless middle”. Making more Watchmen comics, as Abhay said, actually say that people were always right its just a garbage dump of endless dudes punching dudes, there’s no finite quality to anything. (I actually think the way trilogies are now par for the course in mainstream hollywood, and 6 season tv shows are doing the same thing to how people watch film and television). You’re right about Gerber and Stan And Jack – and shit, Miller and Moore both said that American Flagg was the reason they manned up and did Watchmen/Ronin, because it introduced real sophistication in a way that Marvel comics never ever ever did. Of course they’d both done Marvelman and Daredevil at that point, and it becomes all a gray morass of what happened first.

It doesn’t matter, no one outside of comics saw it. Watchmen they saw, and it was undeniable.

We’ve got to keep tearing it down so it can be replaced, because its still too big an icon, which actually paradoxically says a ton about how good the comic is. Comics as a whole needs to be able to say “fuck Watchmen” in a way beyond Grant Morrison’s shitty sniping in JLA: Earth 2, and I don’t know if we’re really at that point yet as a medium. I think the way that people are talking about/reacting to Moore isn’t the same thing, and Watchmen 2 really isn’t the same thing either, it’s wallowing in it rather than surpassing it.

Of course we know that Winter Men is the same story but better. But no one but us weirdos read it, it didn’t penetrate the culture. That’s important. Like, really important even though I could give a shit about ever getting anyone to read comics and actively try to avoid ever getting anyone “into” comics because i find evangelism disgusting. Great works, that shit matters, and no one with a brain is ever going to go “oh you liked Watchmen here read (whatever shitty comic people then recommend to people normally. Scalped, yeah Scalped is absolute shit that people like to read)”. No one goes “hey you liked Citizen Kane, you should see Dune“. Because no one starts with Citizen Kane, they have to watch it because it’s a monolith. If they like it or not is irrelevant. You shouldn’t start the film course with Eisenstein, you should have to work up to it. But you still have to cover it in the course, right?

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swing anna miss, big frank [holy terror]

September 26th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

(this is long, sorry, but i guess i have FEELINGS :rolleyes: )

In between NBA 2k11 (and soon 2k12) games, I sometimes write about comics. It’s just a thing I do, you know, keep the lights on and the Hawks on my TV. I reviewed Frank Miller’s Holy Terror, his big 9/11 getback novel. If you’ve talked to me for more than thirty seconds, you probably know I really enjoy dude’s work, and was looking forward to Holy Terror with more than a little trepidation. Maybe more excitement than trepidation, but I definitely knew 1) how bad this could get and 2) that Miller doesn’t have a subtle bone in his body. Which makes the fact that Holy Terror is as bad as I expected it to be all the more depressing. Read the review–it’s two thousand words, and I spent a long time writing it (more on that in a bit). People are going buck wild in the comments, I bet.

Here’s a quote for something I want to talk out:

There’s a line from a poem that’s been running through my head ever since I finished Holy Terror: “When she was good, She was very, very good, But when she was bad she was horrid.” It applies very well to Holy Terror. The last page is a stinger as good as anything ever seen on The Twilight Zone. The rest of it? It’s depressing. It feels almost like a betrayal. Miller has done many things that were forward-thinking or intelligent, whether exploring the ideals of black beauty in Sin City or blowing the hinges off what comics could be with Elektra Assassin. For him to do something like this, which is stupid at best, is… let’s call it disappointing. He’s punching far below his weight class. I’m still looking forward to the 300 sequel Xerxes, but my desire for it has definitely been tempered, if not nearly annihilated, by Holy Terror.

And “betrayal” feels like one of those things that the comics fans I hate would say in a review, in-between sentences about how this portrayal of the Vision is something something continuity joke. That got away from me, but you get my point. I wrote it in the review yesterday and then stopped. I erased it, rewrote the sentence, and then put it back, because that’s what it feels like. Not a dramatic, everything-you-know-is-wrong, GOTCHA betrayal. Just a minor one. Something I thought was true was revealed to be false.

I’ve talked incessantly about how The Big Fat Kill pretty much completely rewired my head and is probably the thing that led to my love of straight up crime fiction. I grew up and read more and realized that Miller was bigger than hardboiled books. I was pleased to see that his body of work was not only diverse, but groundbreaking. I mean, count ’em: Daredevil, Wolverine, Born Again, Year One, Elektra Assassin, Dark Knight Returns, Sin City, A Dame to Kill For, 300, and Hard Boiled, to name his more inarguable examples of classics. He’s been in comics for 33 years, so… what is that, around a one hot book every three years average? That’s pretty great. He’s a legend for a reason.

And so, the “whores whores whores” stuff online bothered me a whole lot. If you’re pulling that card, you’re ignorant of Miller’s body of work. There’s really no other way to say it. I did/do a lot of eye-rolling at that stuff and try to correct it when appropriate. Miller’s back catalog is way deeper than that criticism suggests, and I guess because of my attachment to his work over the years, it’s my pet bugaboo?

I expected Holy Terror to be pretty bad. I was hoping for ASBAR bad, where there are these glorious shining spots of fantastic storytelling mixed in with the inexplicable nonsense, instead of The Spirit bad, which was mostly bad except for those parts where I kinda sorta got what Miller was trying to do. Back in July, I said “boy do i hope this isn’t super racist when it drops.” And I kept doing that. I kept making jokes about how it was probably gonna be pretty offensive or racist with each new bit of news. I think it’s because I knew, deep down, that it would be terrible, but hopefully if I joked about it, it would somehow become less racist or something. Denial, son.

G Willow Wilson posted this on her Twitter:

“As a Muslim comics creator, seeing an icon like Frank Miller write a book like Holy Terror is like getting punched in the face. Just sayin.”

And ugh, man! I like Wilson a lot, though I don’t follow her on Twitter, so this was the written equivalent of somebody punching you in the face while you’re asleep. You’re gonna feel it, and you’re gonna remember it for a long time. It will cold ruin your day until you finally man up and take care of it. What she said crawled all the way up into my brain, and it sat there asking me why I was being stupid. I knew better, I always knew better, so why the hesitance and dumb jokes instead of facing up to what Holy Terror was shaping up to be? I knew that I needed to recognize wisdom and do what I should have done ages ago.

So I canceled my preorder. No, really. I did it the same day, a couple hours later:

’cause I mean, I’m a smart guy, but I was being a smart dumb guy by fooling myself into thinking that Holy Terror was something that I would possibly be able to like and still respect myself. I’m a fan–not a stan. Or so I’d like to think anyway.

I got a PDF galley of the book the very next day. I laughed at the timing and read it as soon as I got home. And on the first read, I was stunned. Or not stunned–more like blank. I read every page, some twice, and at the end, I was empty. I didn’t hate it, but I was completely devoid of anything to really say about it. That was it? I read it again and everything fell into place. That blankness was me working through the cognitive dissonance of someone I’d thought was a modern, progressive person doing a book that was filled with wall to wall hate for people I respect a great deal. I mean, no way, no how does that happen.

Except it did, it’s real, and man, yeah, I’m glad I canceled the preorder. I would’ve been furious. I would’ve felt terrible. I would’ve felt a lot of things, probably. Even with not having put money into it, I felt bad about it. I felt gross. Holy Terror was everything I was hoping it wouldn’t be. I was a fool for thinking otherwise.

It took me three hours to write that review. That’s an extremely long time for me to take to write anything of that length. (embarrassingly long.) I spent the whole weekend thinking about Holy Terror, despite going to a Hong Kong cinema film festival, and wrote it on Sunday. Writing the review wasn’t working for me at all–and maybe this is melodramatic but whatever, it’s true–until I put on Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. It came out on my ninth birthday and a gang of my family all drove to Macon as a group to see it. It was genuinely life-changing for me, like a watershed moment or Paul waking up on the road to Damascus. If I had to make a chart of things that have had a huge influence on my life, Denzel Washington as Malcolm X would be one of the top five biggest things. It’s that real to me. I don’t watch it near as often as I should, but every time it’s as good as it ever was. (I forgot about the children saying “I am Malcolm X” at the end this time around, and they caught me completely flat-footed. Long story short, FYI, I got a lil choked up.)

(My man Pedro from Funnybook Babylon also hooked me up with a Kindle copy of the new Malcolm bio while I was watching the movie. Very X sort of day.)

I dunno why, but that made the review flow easier. Writing alongside something I knew and loved, and that was in a very real way directly relevant to what Miller was writing about, worked. I got that I needed to make it more of a personal essay than a “Buy this book/don’t buy this book” review, and I wanted to do it from the perspective of someone who loves Miller’s work in general and was disgusted and disappointed. “Betrayal.” I was surprised when I wrapped up the review a little bit before the credits rolled, but there’s something weirdly fitting there. I dunno. Serendipity. It is what it is.

I don’t hate Frank Miller. I’m entirely more disappointed than I expected to be, but I’m still kinda sorta looking forward to Xerxes. I dunno.

I threw some shots Grant Morrison’s way last month, and I didn’t even bother buying (or bootlegging) Action Comics. I’m just not interested any more, and that’s a feeling that’s been growing for a while. I don’t need his books and I don’t think I’m missing all that much these days. I haven’t written Miller off like I have Morrison, though I think that Holy Terror and what it represents are an objectively bigger sin than “has stupid opinions about Superman and needs to openly rep for the Siegels and Shusters or quit comics.” I liked Morrison a lot at one point, but he’s never been as fundamental to me as Miller was. Is that why I haven’t entirely quit his comics? I dunno, but that feels like the correct answer.

But even then, I’m giving a lot of thought to Xerxes. The comic is one of his best, and the movie felt offensive in ways the comic didn’t. Vagaries of the medium, maybe. I don’t think that’s stannery. I feel like that’s probably true. I’ve liked what I’ve seen of it, but I’m still thinking about it a lot. I dunno.

The Miller and Morrison things are sort of identical, in that both situations involve a creator I respect proving that my faith was misplaced. We build up these pictures of others in our heads, and we fill in the blanks based on what we know or what we want to believe. Seeing those differences made as plain as day is always a shocking, surprising thing. It’s unfair, maybe, but we still do it.

I have a hard time separating the art from the artist once I become aware of something I would personally find loathsome about the artist. Sure, they’re still talented, but there are SO many things to take that I can live my entire life experiencing new things before working my way over to them. Other people are better at it than I am, and I’m a little jealous. But I don’t like the idea that my money would go to supporting someone who represents something I hate. And it’s disappointing when people you like give you reasons not to like them.

Every time I see their name, I’ll think of what they did. I dunno if that’s being an informed, responsible consumer or just thinking too much about comics or both.

But you know, whatever whatever. I’m glad I got to see a dozen or so brand new and genuinely incredible Miller pages, despite the words that were on them. You speak of “love and hate.” This is it in a nutshell.

This post is around ten words longer than the actual review and took me around an hour to write. (More words now.) Sorry. I’m kinda bummed out.

Y’all probably shouldn’t buy Holy Terror though.

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we don’t believe you, you need more people

August 23rd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

I was reading some Alan Moore Marvelman for some reason today. I found one in the back there and I couldn’t believe. I pick it up and there are fucking two rapes in it and I suddenly think how many times has somebody been raped in an Alan Moore story? And I couldn’t find a single one where someone wasn’t raped except for Tom Strong, which I believe was a pastiche. We know Alan Moore isn’t a misogynist but fuck, he’s obsessed with rape. I managed to do thirty years in comics without any rape!

Grant Morrison, Rolling Stone 2011

From Grant Morrison, Richard Case, Stan Woch, Daniel Vozzo, and John Workman’s (very good) Doom Patrol 56, part of the lead-up to a big betrayal of the team:

Alternate options: the extended child gangrape in The Invisibles, Lord Fanny’s origin story in the “Sheman” arc of The Invisibles, and probably a few other things that I’m forgetting. I don’t remember whether or not that the monstrous moonchild from that series was the product of consensual sex, but I sorta doubt it.

My point being: get real. Stop believing your own hype. It’s cool you hate your wizard dad Alan Moore or whatever Oedipal thing you got going on, and he’s almost definitely written more rape scenes than you have, but you haven’t made it thirty years in comics without any rape, Chris Ware isn’t a nihilist, superheroes are not here to save us all, and no, Superman is not the greatest idea of the combined human species. It’s the idea of Siegel and Shuster. These soundbytes are absurd.

More Morrison that’s been bugging me enough to not even want to give Action Comics a chance:

You look at the people who created those characters, and they’re all dead. But the characters will still be around in 50 years probably – at least the best of them will. So I try not to concern myself with that. These are deals made in times before I was even born. I can say from experience that young creative people tend to sell rights to things because they want to get noticed. They want to sell their work and to be commercial. Then when they grow up and get a bit smarter, they suddenly realize it maybe wasn’t so good and that the adults have it real nice. [Laughs] But still, it’s kind of the world. I wouldn’t want to comment on that because it was something I wasn’t around for. I can’t tell why they decided to do what they did. Obviously Bob Kane came in at the same age and got a very different deal and profited hugely from Batman’s success. So who knows? They were boys of the same age, but maybe some of them were more keen to sell the rights than others. It all just takes a different business head.

Grant Morrison, Comic Book Resources, 2011

This was the exact moment I went from “Aw yeah, Grant Morrison! (as long as the artists are good)” to “Wait, really?” in terms of how I see this guy. He’s still one of the best writers in comics, but cripes, shouldn’t the best of them also stand up for the ones who got screwed over? Isn’t that what prestige and riches are for? I mean, yeah, do all of the drugs, have sex with all of the women, and I dunno, buy a castle in Scotland when you’re 25 after having made more money off Arkham Asylum than Bill Finger probably ever saw, but once you reach that elder statesman position, once you reach a spot where people look at you with respect and listen to the things you say because you’re viewed as an intelligent and worthwhile creator… shouldn’t you start saying intelligent and worthwhile things? “Well, you know, kids like to get noticed!” is garbage.

You know what Frank Miller did when he got a platform? He repped, and he repped hard. For Jack Kirby, for Bill Finger, for Steve Ditko, and for other creators who deserved to get their art back or to own their creations. For those who got screwed in the name of profit and cheap labor. Sin City letters pages are littered with shots fired at Marvel over how they treated Jack Kirby. The Big Fat Kill (#5, I think) was where I found out that Marvel screwed Kirby. He built a platform and then he used it for good. Is he perfect? Nah. Bill Finger’s name isn’t on DKSA, though it might have been shouted at as a street name or something. But he tried. He got an acknowledgement to Finger and Jerry Robinson into DKR. He didn’t hide behind mealy-mouthed corporate speak to justify two guys getting screwed so that he could write Action Comics with a clean conscience. Two guys who jumpstarted the genre that he loves so much, at that.

It took Abhay to point out that quote to me, and he ethered Morrison over it. King Mob went from counter-culture terrorist to corporate world-changer. Why did Morrison skip straight from counter-culture icon to stooge?

Creator’s rights count. They count more than whatever stupid looking superhero is your favorite. Without the people behind the comics, we wouldn’t have the comics. This sort of callous, blinkered disrespect should be inexcusable.

But sure, keep telling us that Superman is who we should all aspire to be, instead of Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko or Curt Swan or Todd McFarlane or Jim Lee or Frank Miller or (yes, even now) Stan Lee or Adam Warren or any of these cats who have made the works we love. I don’t want to fly. I want to be able to point at something and say, “Yes, I made this with my own two hands and I’m proud of it.”

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